Saturday, December 13, 2014

Where Learning Happens, Being a “Math Person,” and History Class

Learning happens where you actually study the information in front of you rather than gloss over it.

Studying information doesn’t just mean reading it, or hearing it, or repeating it until you’ve memorized it. Studying can mean imagining an application for the information. It can mean trying to relate that information to other information in a way that makes sense.

Humans need air. We need water. We need reliable wi-fi. We wither and die without these things. What do information and knowledge rely on? Their air is application. Their food and water are the relationships with other pieces of information and knowledge.

Why is it hard for people to learn things? They do not actively strive to relate information to other information, nor do they seek to apply it. They gloss over and hope it sticks. When it does not stick, they assume they just aren’t smart and give up. Hey, sometimes information is hard. It's tricky to understand why something is the way it is; sometimes you struggle to find that connection. But sometimes the information is not tricky, and sometimes it's because you are not figuring out where or why it applies. You are not figuring out what you could do (or will end up doing) with that information. So, removed from the soil, it rots.

Taking college classes again made me realize this. That’s another way of saying that it made me realize what I had failed to do my first time in college. What I did in the past was learn information specifically so I could repeat it on a test, get my grade, then let the knowledge (and time spent gaining it) die. Then wondered why I hated school so much.

Nowadays I try to be more active with the information I acquire. This very blog helped me a lot, because writing it forced me to try and explain the things I thought about and read about. I had to try to make them relate (or rather, to see the relationship those facts already shared). Even if my initial guesses and ideas about those relationships were wrong, the fact that I searched for helped make the facts stick.

During this past semester (which, go figure, interfered a bit with the blog, which is why I announced a glorious return and then didn’t update) I was a lot more active during my classes. Taking statistics, I was constantly playing with my calculator, because I wanted to run equations back and forth to make sure I understood why I was getting the answers that I got. I tried--very actively--to relate every equation and concept to one another. If the teacher gave us an equation without explaining it, I began ignoring her and looking it up (okay, maybe not the #1 student role model). This had some interesting results.

Result number one: I did better in this statistics class than any math class I’d taken before.

Result number two: When I studied with other students, I was constantly explaining material to them, because I had done way more mental footwork while listening to the teacher. They called me “really smart.” That felt good.

Result number three: One of them also said, when I was explaining a concept to her, “look, I’m just memorizing it to pass, I’m not a math person like you.” This was the first time anybody had ever called me a math person, and I made a weird snorting sound at her, like if a cartoon pig was also an evil bureaucrat in pantaloons. I was never a “math person” before. It just no longer made sense to me to try and memorize something without figuring out its applications.

It’s not that I was doing something she couldn’t, because I was magically mathematical (mathemagical?) and she wasn’t. It’s that I was repeatedly doing things she wasn’t. Things that younger me also didn’t do, when he also assumed that math wasn’t his thing. Turns out, it’s not that math is fun, or that figuring out how the calculator performs its binomalpdf function and writing my own equation for it is inherently fun. It’s that finding connections is fun. Applying the knowledge of those connections in a demonstration of my ability is fun; I get to say to myself, “look what I can do!” In this regard, every subject is fun. There isn’t a single subject (as far as I can tell) that doesn’t contain those elements of forming connections and implementing applications.

I realized this very clearly during my history class. I think the reason many people struggle with history is because they feel that history requires memorization (question: what year was the 24th Amendment to the US Constitution ratified? Better question: what was the 24th amendment to begin with?). This is sort of accurate, but probably less accurate than most people think.

History is the study of people who did stuff for reasons. As your picture of the people involved becomes more clear, and your picture of the reasons and motivations they had becomes more clear, what they did and when falls into place. You can use an almanac or a textbook or scribbled notes on a sheet of paper to store the minutiae, though with enough detail, it all makes sense anyhow.

It sounds like a lot of effort to learn the “why” of a historical fact. But learning that “why” makes it progressively easier to learn everything else. A lot of people have no trouble remembering the long and drawn out details of their favorite television shows or books or movies or whatever. Yet many people struggle with history, when fundamentally your favorite TV show and your least favorite history class are the same thing. People doing stuff for reasons. Why did this character on Game of Thrones stab that one through the neck? You know because they’re both people with motivations involved in a conflict that you’ve come to understand. As long as the thing you’re reading or watching isn’t crappy fiction, the actions will make sense to you. Even when there are twists that surprise you, they (should) make sense in retrospect. Because you know why.

For the same reason, you can easily learn why one country invades another, or why one politician doesn’t get elected. These “why” questions force you to form a better picture. The more facts you acquire and the more you understand why those facts are true, the better the picture synchronizes with itself. Then, if you don’t actually remember something, the things you do know can help you recreate the fact. It will be the only thing left that makes sense, given what you know.

History is the biography of everybody. Knowing this, history should be significantly more interesting to significantly more people. When you look at how obsessed some folks can be on social media over the most minor happenings, it’s a surprise they’re not more interested in history. People love politics and drama! Just ask high-school students.

But to be fair to the high-schoolers, the classes and textbooks and sometimes teachers do a tremendous disservice to history. They present a series of facts in the dullest manner possible and say “go forth and forget.” How are you supposed to remember the year Texas broke from Mexico without something to relate it to? Imagine trying to put a puzzle together by memorizing the coordinates of every piece without ever looking at the picture. That's how many people study history, and--coincidence?--why many people don't like it. Without a why, your puzzle pieces are blank.

Be the annoying child. “Why?” your world to death.

Not just “why?” but “how?” And not just “how did that happen?” but “how can I use that?” and “how does that fit?” Not just “how does that fit?” but “what does it fit with?”

Life is full of information that you gloss over. And in truth, that is totally fine; if you didn’t gloss over a lot of the world, you would get very little done. Your questions would spiral down to the quantum level in an endless cycle of why and how and then you would notice that you forgot to eat. Then you would be too busy finding your hunger a curious happenstance, and something else would eat you instead.

But you don’t get to gloss over the stuff you want to keep and use. Many of us go through the “why” process automatically when we’re excited; we look for applications of things when we’re having fun. We ask questions just because we are curious, we search for applications because it’s fun. Once novelties wear off, however, once the obligations set in and you just want to clock in and get it done and go home, the learning stops too. Being an auto-mechanic for twenty years doesn’t mean you’re good with cars, it means you spent twenty years in a garage. Being an auto-mechanic who spent twenty years learning, tinkering, exploring, researching, asking questions, and making all that information relate to each other is what makes you a good auto mechanic. In fact, it’s probably what makes you a great one.

So do that! You learn a new fact, “how could I use this?” You learn another one, “how can this be used with the other one? How do they relate?” Even if your guesses are wrong, attempting to relate them is a form of using them, and helps them stick.

This is how learning happens. When you learn consistently and automatically, you develop something that looks a bit like genius, but is really just unconscious, persistent effort.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


“I understand how you feel.”

You hear this sometimes. Maybe you’re venting a problem to somebody and they say those magic words to you. Sometimes they follow it with “but you’re being an idiot” and the magic of empathy dies faster than your little cousin on his first excursion into Dark Souls.

But it is good to know that somebody understands how we feel. It validates it and tells us “the way you feel makes sense to somebody who isn’t you.” It tells you that other people might have gone through the same thing. You aren’t an idiot for feeling this way, you aren’t wrong or screwed up. Maybe that feeling gets diluted depending on the person who tells you this.

Or maybe it’s amplified! Maybe you actually read or hear something from a hero you admire. That they also went through a similar situation and struggled with the same emotions. Maybe they become your hero as a result. Maybe it spurs on your success, because you believe a situation can be conquered and overcome.

Then again, maybe it can backfire. Maybe you wonder, “everybody else goes through this, why can’t I deal with it?” and you feel crappy.

Empathy and emotional resonance are strong things.

In fact people really hate it if you tell them you understand how they feel when you don’t (or when they think you don’t) because it feels patronizing. You haven’t gone through what they have, you don’t understand what it’s like, how could you possibly understand? It feels like they are cheapening your experience.

So all that wonderfully helpful advice that you give them gets ignored, because it clearly doesn’t apply here--or they think it doesn't. Likewise, if you don’t understand what they're going through, your wonderfully helpful advice might be (or feel) impossible to use.

This is also one reason that we might look at somebody’s mistake and call it stupid; we can’t understand how the person was supposed to get from point A to point B, and reached point Q instead. Usually we will understand the mistake if we ourselves have made it, but not always. Because we are wiser and better now, and maybe we’ve internalized a new thought process and forgotten the older one.

And that’s where the crux of it lies. Sometimes we can’t understand, even if we’ve seen other people make the error; we simply do not understand the thought process that led to the mistake, conclusion, or behavior. “I don’t get why everybody is/does [dumb thing].” You can’t see the (il)logical chain that led to the behavior, so you can’t empathize. Though maybe you can empathize afterwards when you see how bad they feel and tell them, “I would feel bad if I did something stupid too.”

It is good to be friends.

Let’s Solve A Puzzle

Two items together cost $1.10. One of the items costs $1.00 more than the other item. How much do the two items cost individually?

The answer is a little farther down.

It’s kind of a blessing and a curse, but I see many situations as puzzles, as having solutions, as being solvable. It’s a useful way to think because it can help you avoid lots of common errors. The field of rational thinking--that’s a field? you might ask--is the art and science of behaving in a way that maximizes goals. If you state a goal, then act in ways that aren’t optimal towards receiving those goals, you are considered to be acting irrationally under that definition. Irrational behaviors can be understandable and common, but when you break them down you see them for what they are: detrimental to your goals. In the rationalist worldview there’s some room for setting different goals based on your own personal values and emotions, though your values may change depending on how rational you attempt to become.

In short, trying to see situations as puzzles or situations that can be maximized is a rationalist worldview. It’s one I like and try to apply as often as I can.

On the other hand, this viewpoint means you overthink things, or at least get accused of overthinking. It can mean you get bogged down with every situation because you don’t want to act in a way that is wrong. Then you see everybody sail through the same scenario and think “ugh, why am I struggling with this?” and the answer is, “I’m struggling with it because my brain wants to struggle with it.” Because, it turns out, that trying to maximize every scenario has costs associated with it that are equal to (or greater than) the costs of simply accepting non-optimal results in those scenarios.

This isn’t a problem with the rational view, but rather one’s application of it. Because you might be getting distracted with a short-term goal that runs counter to a long-term goal and generates you little value. But you don’t notice because, go figure, you feel emotionally attached to applying rationality in a situation, and it’s understandable not to want a bad outcome.

There’s a pattern there.

To the puzzle above, did you answer “one item costs a dollar, the other costs ten cents”? It is the answer many people get and is also the wrong answer, and if you look at it for a moment, you realize why. One dollar is not one dollar more than ten cents. But it feels good to say that answer, because you see the $1.00, you see the $.10, you know there’s some addition involved, you get some number feelings in your head, and you answer. But kind-of-mathy-number-feelings are not really how you’re supposed to solve most math problems.

The best way to avoid an error in this problem is to ignore your gut, ignore what looks good and feels good, and just math it out. Straight logic. If you wanted to use algebra, you could do it like this:

X + Y = 1.10 -- added together, they equal 1.10
Y = X + 1.00 -- one item is a dollar more than the other
X + X + 100 = X + Y -- substitute Y to remove it from the equation
2X + 1.00 = 1.10 -- substitute some more
2X = .10 -- subtract 1.00 from both sides
X = .05 -- divide by two
Y = 1.05 -- add 1.00 to X to get Y

So the real answer is “one item is five cents, the other is a dollar and five cents.” Hooray for algebra.

I might have biased you by telling you that there was a sneaky trick, or common error at the start of the problem. Or you might have made the mistake before. That might have alerted you and made you want to use logic. I don’t know what this bias is scientifically called, but I just think of it as the “puzzle bias.” If you know a puzzle is meant to be solved, then you may have more drive or determination to solve that puzzle because you believe it can be solved. Likewise, if I tell you there is a trap or common mistake in a problem, you may be more likely to double check your answer, just in case. It is why I also encourage people to assume a solution.

Okay, tangent over. The point is that the mistake is very understandable. A lot of people make it! If you don’t stop what you’re doing and engage some math circuitry in your brain (and many people don’t really do that in their day-to-day life) they will go with something that looks kind of good and roll with it. They’ll respond intuitively and emotionally to the problem (respond emotionally to a math problem? Going with an answer that “feels good” without thinking hard certainly qualifies). This might work in a lot of cases, but sometimes the obvious answer is the wrong one. The understandable answer that seems right at first glance is wrong.

Sometimes you need a bit of puzzle bias and you need to assume that there is a trick or trap in the situation because that can keep you alert. It can help you avoid understandable mistakes and succeed more, which is good because success is fun. Or, on the flipside, it can make you paranoid and second guess yourself, causing new mistakes. That is also fun.

So I Just Read All That For What Exactly?

There are a few things to take away from that.

First is that you can have a completely understandable response to a situation. It will make you feel in a way that is perfectly understandable, and you will then respond in a way which is perfectly understandable, causing a perfectly understandable mistake. And everybody will tell you that they understand, and it will make you feel better, and it will make you feel supported.

You will still have made a mistake. One you shouldn’t necessarily feel like an idiot for making, but one which might still need correcting. Hey, these things happen.

Another point is that if you want to figure out why mistakes and behaviors happen, you need to figure out the thoughts and emotions behind them. Not understanding does not render the situation incomprehensible. Especially when you aren’t talking about math problems, where a behavior might not even seem like a mistake to the person engaging in it. So sometimes you have to stop and really listen to another person to figure out “hey, why are they acting in this manner that I currently cannot fathom?” Because it’s very possible that, without your background and substituting their background instead, you would be acting similarly.

Yet another point is that it pays, every now and then, to ask yourself “have I been here before?” The above puzzle is very easy to solve when you’ve seen it before even if you don’t remember the details. You remember there is a trap, and you remember that the obvious answer was not the right one… so you think a little harder and a correct solution comes to mind instead.

It’s less impressive to get that puzzle right (we mostly value the solution to a puzzle or riddle based on getting it right the first time we see it, since pattern recognition is cheating), but if you’re talking about real life situations, it’s important you learn the “solutions.” That is in quotes because real life scenarios do not always have clear-cut solutions like little math puzzles.

Understandable mistakes are insidious, because they make sense at the time. Your thought process will continue to tell you this is a good idea because the emotion is understandable and the logic is understandable so the action seems smart, right up until it turns out to be wrong again. And again, and again.

But if you do take away one thing, take away that question: “have I been here before?” It’s a handy tool, and sometimes it starts the train of thought that helps you remember how you responded then, and what happened when you did.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A New (old) Challenger Approaches!

It is weird competing again.

I should clarify. I know most of my readers are here because of Smash and a lot of people in that community ask if I’m ‘unretired’ or what. The answer to that question is “sort of.”

I play locally. I am sort-of-sponsored by a store in Dallas called the FX Game Exchange, which has essentially become the hub of Dallas Smash. It’s not a big deal, but the owner covers my entry fees to tournaments and I wear the store’s t-shirt. So if you ever look up results for local events and see me listed as “FXDFW Wobbles” that’s why. I have lots of respect for the owner and he’s gone to great lengths to support the local scene, even rearranging his store so there is more space for setups and streaming. Mutual backscratching has commenced, and itches are satisfied.

But I’m probably not going to be flying out to major events anytime soon, and I probably won’t be competing in them, since it’s not really in the “contract” for FX to pay for my travel, or for me to represent them in the global marketplace while expanding corporate synergies. I also find the longer weekends of play to be stressful and distracting, especially when trying to maintain concentration for an entire event (that’s another way of saying when I go to big events, I want to party and hang out).

However, as long as tournaments are nearby and people don’t get tired of me showing up, I will probably keep playing. It is really hard to dampen the competitive drive completely.

Like I said though, competing is weird. It’s stressful. Personal growth never really ends, and if you don’t keep tending to it you tend to regress. The downside is that you have a feeling of progress in your head, and it can be very frustrating to feel that regression. “I thought I was over this!” you might think.

I like to use weightlifting analogies when it comes to personal growth because I think many similar principles apply. One of them is “use it or lose it.” You don’t set a personal record on your bench press, then lie in bed for two years, then come right back and get the same results. If you don’t put effort into at least maintaining your progress, it does vanish. The same is true of your personal habits, changes to your mindset, attitude, lifestyle, whatever. If you don’t keep an eye on it and don’t constantly implement new techniques or behaviors, they will fade.

I was kind of disappointed/surprised/frustrated when I first entered a tournament after a long period of inactivity to find that I was not only making errors, but my old frustrations with myself kept bubbling up. I was cussing at myself for making mistakes (even reasonable ones!) and I was getting mad that I was getting mad. It was like 2009 all over again, except worse, because I thought I was supposed to be more mature and enlightened and et cetera.

In fact, I rediscovered that whenever the concept of winning and losing is involved, I turn into a bit of an asshole. I re-learned just how much I really hate losing and making errors, and how stubborn I can be when it comes to my own prowess and proving it.

You know, ignore how little real practicing I’d done. Ignore how many neuroses and personal problems I had to try and pick apart over the years to improve my peak performance and happiness while competing. Ignore all that! I lose and I get angry. Grrr.

Seems silly. And it was and it is. But after observing myself and others, it’s a very understandable silliness.

People, in general, hate loss. We dislike losing material things. We dislike losing competitions. We dislike losing progress. Because we get a bit stuck on how good it felt then to overcome the obstacle, except now we have to overcome it again. We go through the pain of the process with less of the pleasure of overcoming the challenge. We already did that. We’ve been here before, and it sucked then and it sucks more now because we don’t feel like we’re gaining, we just feel like we’re recovering lost ground.

It was really nice going out with a bang and feeling like I had achieved a big personal victory. It was not nice feeling like I would have to do it again, especially when feeling the expectations of people around me to keep being super good. Was I imagining them? Maybe. People still get excited about beating me in friendlies when I’m playing Donkey Kong, so I don’t think it’s totally unjustified. But a major part of overcoming my issues and frustrations was learning to relax those impulses. Ask the people who play with me lately, and you will find that this is certainly not the case right now.

Like I said though, it’s tough to dampen the competitive drive for good. The fire rises up inside and no matter how unreasonable it might be, you (well, I) want to win now. I have it pretty bad because I want to win at everything and be the best all the time. Channeling that fire in a productive manner can be tricky.

But that’s part of the reason I’m back. If you want it to, competition can keep you mentally sharp. My mission statement (of sorts) has been that entering the pressure situation and learning from it teaches you about yourself. When competing brings a problem to the surface, when it raises questions about yourself, you get to see how to handle that problem and answer those questions. Maybe you can expunge them, or develop strategies to deal with them.

I don’t think my competitiveness is inherently a bad thing. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy when competing, but that can be okay, because enemies and foes give you the information about yourself that you need to be stronger. If I teach myself, it might be worth it to come back for a bit.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hello Again

Good news! The blog is back.

A number of people (greater than ten, and less than two million) have asked me in-person and online if I would start again. Until now, my answer was a hearty shrug, followed by "probably not."

To be honest, lately I’ve been frustrated. I like writing about things and coming up with thoughts on a variety of subjects. I like reading and learning and synthesizing what I learn, and I enjoy putting it out there somewhere for others to take things away. I like the idea that I’m going to say something and you’re going to read it and it’s going to help.

But I get frustrated because of how hard it is to make changes. Changes require constantly confronting your old habits with a draining degree of self-awareness. Change meets resistance, and if going to the gym teaches you anything, it’s that repeatedly working against resistance saps your strength. However, the other thing it teaches you is that you need that challenge to become stronger. Eventually, if you keep at it, you may look back at your old challenges and think, “remember when I could barely handle this?” And you will laugh, and proceed to do something else you can barely do.

I want to help other people change successfully, I want to change myself, but I can’t always see those changes in action because change is hard. It often takes a while. Epiphanies and realizations are nice and inspiring, but putting them into practice is tough. It’s tough for me, it’s tough for you, it’s generally tough for everybody.

Not being able to see some kind of concrete result of my writing makes it difficult to stay motivated. But when people ask me if I’m going to write again, it’s like a little shot of espresso for my ego. It makes me feel like I did change something, because when the writing stopped, somebody noticed.

That is, ironically, a selfish reason to start again. In fact, it’s doubly selfish, because without people to write for, I don’t do a lot of writing. I originally started writing a blog because writing helps me think; it keeps me critical, it keeps me mentally invested in my own progress. But hey, as long as people want to read and I want to write, it should all work out in the end, I think.

However, we aren’t just returning to the status quo! I’m going to try and do something slightly different. One of the last major events I went to, several people told me that I should start streaming or podcasting or something that they could subscribe to me, because they would totally pay me to keep writing or listen to me talk, or something.

And I thought, “hey, that sounds kind of cool.” Writing and reading takes me time and energy, especially when I want to come up with ideas that don’t stink. If it genuinely makes a difference to people and they want to support me, then I want there to be a way for that to happen (remember: selfish). So I’m thinking of starting a Patreon account.

If you don't know, Patreon is essentially crowd-funding. People can donate to me monthly as a form of support for the things I make. The difference between Patreon and, say, Kickstarter is that I don’t necessarily have a financial target to keep making the blog. The blog is not held hostage to a given ransom; you keep getting words whether you (and others) pay for them or not.

In short, the support is strictly voluntary. The incentive to donate is because you think me and my blog are cool. If you don’t think those two things are cool enough for [dollar amount per month] then you can give less. If [dollar amount greater than zero] is still too much, give nothing! And if [zero dollars] is too much to get you to read but you're here anyhow, then both of us need to rethink our lives.

But I also want to have neat incentives for people who support me, so I think what I’ll do are things like Q&A for patrons, topic suggestions for blogs, things like that. The patrons will--possibly?--have more say in the kind of things I write about and questions I answer, though everybody will get to read them. Honestly I am still not sure everything really works, and so I will be using the time-honored technique of “winging it” as I go through this.

I might still abandon the idea (the Patreon, not the blog) if, after some more looking into it, I don't think it's valuable. So if you have any thoughts on that, please let me know.

That is it for now, but rest assured there will be a new and very interesting post this week. Please react with all due excitement, and keep fragile heirlooms out of reach of your celebratory gyrations.

Thanks everybody. I’ll talk to you soon.

Friday, May 2, 2014


Hey there folks. As you can read from the title, I'm going to take a brief break from the regular updates to work on some other stuff. Life things, other writing projects, etc. You may have noticed (or maybe it's just me?) that the posts have all lately run towards similar themes and felt kind of samey. I've got some other stuff on my mind to work on and kind of feel like I'm really digging around to find stuff to write about. I think it's starting to show a bit.

So for the immediate future, my recommendation is to expect a break from regular updates. There may be a random update here and there, and you will know through the typical channels (Twitter, Facebook, or vague ripples on the Internet that make your browser quiver like a purring kitty-cat).

See you when I see you!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Something that’s pretty interesting (to me, anyhow) is how people get taught the correct “form” for executing things. Or don’t get taught, or get taught badly. You learn a form from one coach, move on to another, and he or she starts having to undo all that horrible damage. Which, funnily enough, your third coach in the future also finds it necessary to undo.

For a given game, you have a certain result that you want to achieve. The ball wants to go in the net or down the field or into a cup. The game imposes restrictions on how you can interact with the elements of the game, from a ball to a stick to another player to the other nine players or whatever.

You also have certain restrictions; specifically, you have the restrictions imposed on you by your body. The more of your body involved in a motion, the more compound and complicated the motion becomes. Little adjustments and changes in one place will turn into an adjustment and change in another.

You try adjusting a swing by leaning a little more on one leg. To complete the swing after you start, you rotate. Because your balance is a little shifted, you tilt a bit as you swing and tighten an oblique muscle a bit extra. Tightening the muscle reduces a bit of the flexibility, which causes you to tilt your shoulder, which changes the angle of the swing a little. One little change rolls all the way down the line (well maybe it does so in a way completely unlike what I just described, I am not a kinesiologist).

In order to adjust for one thing, your body will try and preserve balance, keep you from falling over for no reason, whatever. Sometimes, if you mess with your form enough, you can injure yourself because your body isn’t a magical know-it-all being and hurts itself for no reason. Or it’s just trying to do what you tell it, which was a bad idea from the start.

You want a result. To get the result, you cultivate a form. If you’re going to compete in a given game for a long period of time, you will need to execute that form over and over again. Having a form that works against your body does you no favors, particularly in the long term. You will adjust one thing, tighten something else, over-rotate here, and after thousands of executions you will be seeing a doctor for your chronic pain. You can sometimes cobble a painful (but successful) form together out of bad habits, often by ignoring the specific needs of your body.

In most cases, the purpose of the form is to fulfill the function. The challenge is not to fulfill the function while mindlessly adhering to the form. Unless the form is very specifically stated in the rules of your game, I suppose. But if the goal of the game is “move the ball into the circle somehow,” then everything serves that. Even if your form looks bloody stupid it will become the norm after awhile if it’s better than everybody else’s.

In the context of video games, it’s kind of good that people don’t really stress over form (I can imagine the YouTube tutorials where somebody tells you that you need to make sure your index finger remains 1.25 inches away from your middle finger at all times to maximize muscular flexibility and coordination while inputting shoryukens, and I laugh at the imaginary nerd), though I think it deserves some kind of mention. Cultivating your own form is important. The form exists for purposes of consistency, and consistent performance is an indicator of developed skill.

If you are going to do something over and over again, you want to have a form that permits you to do it the same way. If you position your hands to execute it one way this time, and a different way another time… well, you increase the odds that something little will interfere. Your body learns heavily through repetition. Changing parameters will change output.

Little changes in one part of the body affect others. If you tuck your arm in next to your side a little more today than you did yesterday, it bends, twists, and tenses just a little differently. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but the more precise a motion needs to be, the more consistency is demanded. Some games come down to executions measured in tenths of an inch and sixtieths of a second. You do not want anything interfering with your comfort and repetition more than necessary. You already have enough to deal with in competition from nerves making you shaky and tensing your muscles. Position your arm a bit differently and you change the angle your hand and thumb move, and now you are performing a motion slightly different from the one you practiced. Not a big deal, unless it’s the clutch moment and something you should have been able to rely on goes a little wrong. People lose hundreds or thousands of dollars by frames and by pixels. Stuff like that matters.

People obsess over their equipment because little differences (a wider grip, a bit of less tension in something, whatever) throws of little sensitivities you develop over years of practice. Almost any competitor will tell you “ugh, something feels off” when little things are different, and the “off” feeling heavily contributes to discomfort and lack of focus, diminishing performance. If I remember right, Starcraft player Flash was known for using a ruler to measure the distance of the keyboard from the edge of the desk when he traveled to events. Why not? Everything counts when it comes to maintaining form. If you go to fighting game tournaments, sometimes you see players sitting in front of the big crowd on the big stage… on the floor, stick in lap. If that’s how they practice at home, that is what will increase their consistency and make them feel comfortable. It might look silly, but so does dropping bread and butters.

It’s not something people mention a lot (for gaming, anyhow) but I felt like talking about it a bit. Try and practice things the way that you will execute them in competition. On the flip side, when you get to competitions, try and set things up so you are playing just like you do at home. When you practice something, pay close attention to how you hold a controller or stick or approach your keyboard. Get your form down. Don’t introduce pointless variables unless you want to surprise yourself with sudden inconsistencies.

Thanks for reading.